Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. He can be reached on [email protected]
The Biden administration insisted on Sunday that a report on the origins of the coronavirus being prepared by a team of experts led by the World Health Organization in Geneva cannot and should not be trusted as it lacks sufficient data and independence.
Speaking from Washington DC on CBS’s Face The Nation with Margaret Brennan, President Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, said: “I believe that we need to take a variety of steps to look at the previous administration’s response to the pandemic and what lessons we need to learn to make sure that never happens again.
“I also believe that we need a credible, open, transparent international investigation led by the World Health Organization, and they are about to come out with a report about the origins of the pandemic in Wuhan, China, that we have questions about because we do not believe that China has made available sufficient original data into how this pandemic began to spread both in China and eventually around the world.”
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“We believe that both the WHO and China should step up on this matter,” he added.
Asked whether he was suggesting that the WHO was being manipulated by China, Sullivan responded, “I’m not going to characterize it that way, what I am going to say is that the only way to have a scientifically-based investigation is to have access to all of the data” not merely to know what happened in the current pandemic, but to be able to prevent future pandemics as well.
Sullivan’s comments come only two days after President Biden announced on Friday an initial $2 billion in funding for GAVI, the vaccine Alliance, to be used by the COVAX Facility, senior administration officials said at a briefing in Washington DC on Thursday.
Biden made the announcement during a Group of Seven meeting of leaders of the world’s largest economies.
In all, the White House pledged about $4 billion to a multilateral effort to get the coronavirus under control and vaccinate most people in the world.
The United States will release an additional $2 billion over two years once other donors have made good on their pledges. The money was appropriated by a bipartisan congressional vote last year.
On February 13, the Biden administration raised “deep concerns” over early conclusions by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the origin of the coronavirus.
Biden’s concerns came only days after a WHO official said the coronavirus likely jumped from an animal to a person rather than a laboratory, a position often promoted by China.
In a statement by U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, the Biden administration said the United States has “deep concerns” about the way early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated.
“We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them,” Sullivan said in a statement from Washington D.C.
He wrote: “The mission of the World Health Organization (WHO) has never been more important, and we have deep respect for its experts and the work they are doing every day to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and advance global health and health security. That is why President Biden rejected and reversed the Trump Administration’s decision to disengage from the WHO. But re-engaging the WHO also means holding it to the highest standards. And at this critical moment, protecting the WHO’s credibility is a paramount priority.
“We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them.
“It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government. To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak. Going forward, all countries, including China, should participate in a transparent and robust process for preventing and responding to health emergencies — so that the world learns as much as possible as soon as possible.”
The World Health Organization investigative team said at a news conference in China on February 8 that the virus that causes COVID-19 most likely jumped from animals to humans, and not from a laboratory, a theory promoted by China.
The leader of the WHO team said it was also probable that the virus may have been transmitted to humans through frozen food, another theory often promoted by China.
However, the WHO team acknowledged that the most likely scenario was that the virus was transmitted naturally from an animal into humans.
That transmission may have come from a bat to a small mammal that may have infected a person, and then other persons.
The participants at the press briefing on Tuesday included Mr Mi Feng, National Health Commission of China, Spokesperson, Dr Liang Wannian, Chinese team lead and Executive Vice Dean of school of public health at Tsinghua, Dr Peter Ben Embarek, WHO International Team Lead, and Professor Marion Koopmans, member of the WHO international team and Head, Department of Viroscience, University of Rotterdam.
A Danish food-safety expert who spoke on behalf of the WHO, Peter Ben Embarek, asked “Did we change dramatically the picture we had beforehand?” and he responded, “I don’t think so.””Did we improve our understanding? Did we add details to that picture? Absolutely.”
Scientists from the World Health Organization were only allowed in China recently, a year after the coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan.
With more than 2 million people dead worldwide, China held what it labeled a “WHO-China Joint Study Press Conference” at Hilton Optics Valley Hotel, Wuhan on February 8.
However, many questions have remained unanswered.